“What I value most in my friends is loyalty.”
This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
There were four of us; as far back as I can remember.
Keevil and the O’Briens were older, but for some reason they let me tag along.
I guess I made ‘em laugh.
A sense of humour opens many doors.
We weren’t exactly model citizens, then or now, and we got into a few scrapes but nothing heavy. I could run fast and this came in handy as I always seemed to be the last one to work out that things had gone pear-shaped.
I lost count of the number of times I heard “run!”.
This word was usually uttered by all three of the blokes who were supposed to be looking out for me.
They probably thought that it was obvious that the time to run had arrived and felt that it was unnecessary to say so, then one or all of them would notice that I was still standing there with my mouth open.
I still have dreams about being a kid and a voice from many yards away yelling ‘run’.
Considering they had several yards head start you would think that I would be the one who got nabbed.
I could run, and usually not in a straight line. I worked out that adults were faster than I was, except for the fat ones, so it was only a matter of time before they caught up to me. Not running in a straight line was the key. If I suddenly changed direction often enough they gave up and went after someone else, someone less slippery.
I was usually carrying something we had nicked. “Here, you hang on to it they will never suspect a little kid”; and they didn’t until they did, which was usually not my fault.
Most of our ‘hasty retreats’ were caused by Keevil’s inability to hold his nerve. You would never know it to look at him now but back then he lacked a bit of ‘bottle’.
This sudden need to ‘head for the hills’ only increased my anxiety.
These days I wouldn’t associate myself with such unreliable accomplices, but i was a kid and the rules were different.
If a bunch of big kids wanted to have you around then you didn’t say no.
My other friends were way to frightened to get into any serious adventures.
They were frightened of getting hurt, frightened of what their parents would say and frightened of the police.
None of these fears were unreasonable, but it made for very boring friends and long school holidays.
As the years went by Keevil and the two O’Brien’s dropped out of school and went looking for work.
Keevil joined the railways as a clerk, W.T got a job in a shop on the High Street and Jimmy O’Brien got a job as a builder’s labourer. You’ve seen the photo of Jimmy, he’s huge, so lugging stuff around all day was easy for him.
I stayed at school and eventually went on to University.
I was the brains of the outfit.
Well, that sounds better than it actually is, what I mean to say is, ‘brains’ is what I bring to the gang, I’m not actually the ‘brains of the outfit’, William T. O’Brian is.
It was Billy who came up with the capers right from the start.
He knew that if we stood out the front of old man McKenzie’s house and threw stones on his roof it would give Jimmy time to scale his back fence and steal a bag of apples.
Billy even remembered to supply Jimmy with the bag.
Old man McKenzie had a big dog that guarded his orchard but Billy knew that the commotion would keep the big dog and his owner busy just long enough to pull off the caper.
We sold some of the apples and we ate the rest.
Best tasting apples you could possibly imagine.
As we got older the capers got bigger, usually to do with the railways, courtesy of C.J., or building sites that Jimmy had been working on.
My job was to keep us all out of goal.
I finished my law degree at Melbourne University. Finished second overall for the State of Victoria. The bloke who beat me into first place became a high court judge.
I always hated that bloke.
I got a position with Cohen, Cohen and Cohen, Melbourne’s top criminal law firm.
I became so successful that the firm offered me a partnership but my name didn’t make it onto the letterhead. I guess Cohen, Cohen, Cohen and Hipshein was just too long to fit on the door, but I didn’t care.
My day job, as successful as it was, was just a diversion. My real firm was O’Brien, Hipshein, Keevil and O’Brien.
We were making a lot of money; only money was not the point, it was just a way of keeping score.
The photo shows the only time we were all brought in for questioning at the same time.
It was a ‘usual suspects’ round up.
A pointless exercise, but it kept the politicians happy.
It gave us a chance to catch up with some old contacts, and a few new capers were duly planned. It saved us a lot of time because we didn’t have to do the usually running around to plan upcoming jobs, with the usual precautions about being seen and being followed.
These precautions might have seemed unnecessary but it was important for staying out of gaol.
Victorian law had a ‘consorting’ provision, which meant that they could put you in prison just for being seen talking to a convicted criminal. It was an easy way for the cops to squeeze a ‘crim’ into talking about his associates, and it worked too.
The magistrates were onside and some stiff sentences were handed out to those who refused to ‘rat’.
The law had no effect on me as I’d never been convicted of anything. They had tried a few times but the charges were always dropped. You didn’t go after a top criminal barrister unless you had an airtight case. The legal profession looked after its own in the same way that the cops did.
You can see from the photograph that no one looks even a little bit worried. We all knew it was a wind up, but never the less I was worried.
This whole round-up didn’t make sense.
Cops are creatures of habit and this didn’t fit the usual pattern. Something was up, and I didn’t know what it was, and that made me nervous.
My job was to stay one step ahead and now I was in the dark. Not a good place to be if we were to survive.
Within six months I was the only one still alive.
Yet again I was left behind just as I was when we were kids, just as I was at school after they all left.
Left to fend for myself.
It was my job to see the trouble coming and I had failed badly.
The police were sick of being made fools of and a hard-core group decided to fight back. The bosses formed the ‘Armed Robbery Squad’ which turned out to be a euphemism for hit squad.
They went on a killing spree that lasted for eight years before a Royal Commission had them disbanded.
Only after Police headquarters was bombed did the politicians decide to act.
A few of the squad ended up in Gaol but the rest simply retired.
My crew was never into armed robbery but that didn’t matter in the long run because a lot of the really dangerous crooks believed that someone was feeding the cops information, which was probably true and my mates got caught in the middle.
They shot Keevil dead in his driveway. We knew who did it but the cops didn’t care, so we decided to sort it out ourselves.
The resulting gun fight saw the O’Briens mortally wounded.
We had managed to wipe out the gang that killed our friend and at the end of it all I didn’t have a scratch on me.
My ears were ringing and I had a bullet hole in my hat and a lot of blood on my shoes, but that was it.
Last man standing
This wasn’t the revenge I was hoping for, but it would have to do.
We could have let Keevil’s murder go by without doing anything about it and we may have survived but that was never going to happen.
It had been us against the world ever since we were kids and we were not going to abandon that now.
My friends paid a heavy price and I’m left to wonder how it might have been.
You probably think that we deserved what we got, that we were outside the law and that we should not have expected it protect us, and you would be right.
We lived by our own rules and we achieved something that is precious and rare.
We were loyal and true, right to the end.